The official line in Washington D.C. is that there’s a new Cold War brewing, with an ascendant China in the place of the old Soviet Union, and cyberspace as the new theater of war. But work done by an independent security researcher suggests that the Chinese government is woefully unprepared to fend off cyber attacks on its own infrastructure.
For the last 18 months, Dillon Beresford, a security researcher with testing firm NSS Labs and divorced father of one, has spent up to seven hours a day of his spare time crawling the networks of China’s state and provincial governments, as well as stealthier networks belonging to the PLA and the country’s top universities. Armed with free tools like Metasploit and Netcat, as well as Google Translate, he’s pulled back the curtains on the state of cyber security in China. What he’s discovered may come as a surprise to many U.S. policymakers and Pentagon officials.
Contrary to the image of China as a nearly invincible cyber powerhouse, Beresford says in an interview with Threatpost Editor Paul Roberts, that the fast-growing nation suffers from woeful cyber security practices at home that leave, literally, thousands of networks and databases vulnerable to even trivial, remote attacks. Beresford, who publicized holes in domestic Chinese SCADA systems in September, 2010, said the country’s aggressive cyber offense abroad, he said, is in stark contrast to an almost total lack of basic cyber defense at home that has left both classified and unclassified government networks vulnerable to attack and compromise. That should give the Chinese government pause as it ponders the consequences of a global campaign of cyber espionage, and create an opportunity for the U.S. and China to de-escalate what he sees as a growing cyber arms race. Beresford has publicized holes in recent weeks highlighting insecure mail servers and databases he has uncovered. He spoke to Roberts on April 26th, 2011.